I had the pleasure to interview Konrad Kiss from Bitgap who is working on a new Sci-Fi MMORPG named Xenocell which I wrote about earlier.

This interview is very long and detailed – so i hope you will enjoy it at least as much as I did.

1. You have developed a web-based game in the past and you have listened to the proposals and suggestions of the community.
What have you learned from those players regarding making a good MMORPG ?

Droidarena was a game where the player had to create a virtual robot, program it using a simple AI language specifically created for that game, and send it to battle where it would confront other enemy robots.

When I started that game, I knew that I was targeting a rather specific group with it; – young hobby programmers. To my biggest surprise, Droidarena managed to draw in players of both genders and all ages. I recognized it only later, that it was due to the immense amount of communication options I’ve built into and around the game.

Back in around 2001 when Droidarena launched, there were no buzzwords such as social networking. I was still lucky enough to recognize the power of communication in time, and started expanding the game based on that. I fine-tuned the rules to encourage the formation of clans (corporations). I wanted players to feel like they belonged to their friends in their corporations. Within a single year, this resulted in a very strong and helpful community, which was very rewarding to see evolve.

I also learned that managing a community is best done by staying neutral and as much anonymous as I could. This formed a private line which players did not cross – I’d like to believe that it was out of respect partially for having created the game. In my opinion, together with a handful but exceptional GMs, that respect was the basis of being able to control a game with tens of thousands of players.

Of course I had to move quickly on bug reports, and deliver new features in time to keep the community satisfied and helpful. If you can’t make your players feel valued, then your game is pretty much doomed. I learned that the easy way, fortunately, thanks to an amazing, imaginative, helpful and luckily huge fan base.

2. Xenocell is being developed using the Torque3D engine which is not Linux friendly like their first Torque Game Engine yet you are planning to make a native Linux client, how are you planning to achieve this goal ? porting to Mac and re-port it to Linux ?

Being a GarageGames associate developer, I can see that there are steps being made to bring Torque 3D to the Linux platform. These are not guaranteed to succeed, but they are good signs of something moving forward.

While with their TGEA line GarageGames firmly rejected a Linux port of the engine, this is totally different with the brand new Torque 3D 1.0. Not only does it have better wrapped core features that generally make it a lot easier to port the engine under just about any platform, but the port to Linux itself is also supported by GarageGames and a number of community members.

I believe that we will see dedicated server features ported to Linux within 6 months. I also think that a Linux client is very likely to appear in the first half of 2010. To be fair, I need to mention, these are only my speculations, and are nothing official.

If a client wouldn’t happen soon by GarageGames or the rest of the Torque 3D developer community, we’d set more resources aside to deliver both Linux and a Mac clients by the end of 2010.

Since Linux’s OpenGL libraries are a lot more usable than those on the MacOS X, we are not likely to start a Linux port based on the Mac version. We’d probably go straight from Windows to Linux instead.

3. Except making Xenocell your company is also “migrating” games that use the Torque Game Engine to Torque Game Engine Advanced and T3D.
How long does it takes to port a game from TGE to TGEA and T3D ?
What are the benefits to the players and developers moving their games in the middle of development to other engine ?
And most importantly, will a Linux compatibility remains when porting from Torque to the later engines ?

Torque has changed a lot since the first versions of TGE were available sometime around early 2001. Fortunately, most of the porting is rarely from any of the ancient versions, although we did have one specific task where the code was from late 2005.

It usually takes about 10-20 days to port a Torque game, but it depends heavily on how modified the original engine was. It could add up to months even, or be done within a few days. All games are different. Though even if the source was not modified, and the game only uses the scripting aspect of Torque, the changes are usually numerous, and not all of them can be ported.

A port does not only require us to work on the game, but the developer as well. Things like terrain blocks usually need to be recreated. The material system is vast and full of new features that should be harnessed. A port often requires recreating most of the artwork by the developer, so it is not always an easy task.

To be honest, Linux compatibility was not required from us when doing a port so far. TGE was compatible with Linux, but TGEA broke that tradition. Only the latest version of TGEA, 1.8.1 opened towards MacOS X. Torque 3D was based on TGEA 1.8.1, and it did inherit the MacOS X compatibility, but neither of the engines after TGE support Linux yet.

Torque 3D shows great promise nonetheless. It has made it possible for independent developers to publish games on all major game platforms such as Nintendo’s Wii, Microsoft’s XBOX 360, Sony’s Playstation 3 and Apple’s iPhone. Understandably, these platforms enjoyed a higher priority than operating systems which are not known for being game platforms.

If a port is worth it? When the targeted platform is Windows only, the benefits are always worth the port. The engine is constantly evolving feature-wise. The basic lighting mode in Torque 3D that could be compared to TGE’s lighting gives many times the frame rate in some situations. That’s because the code that does the lighting is clearer, more optimized, and uses up-to-date techniques to do its job. Programming evolves just like any other profession, and it’s just perfectly desirable to make use of this advancement. If eye-candy and better resource management are not enough to convince a developer to upgrade to a better Torque engine, bugs are found and squashed with great response time from GarageGames. This alone is enough reason for me to take the extra time to port Xenocell to the latest version of Torque.

However, for many independent developers it is also a financial question whether to upgrade. Torque 3D costs many times the original price of TGE. Even considering this, I still believe that Torque 3D has a better feature over price ratio than TGE did. The recently released public demo version of Torque 3D might convince more TGE developers about its worth, and I’m hoping that people will start seeing Torque 3D as an AAA engine at an unbelievably low price instead of the successor of TGE. It is a completely different engine now.

4. You wrote that Xenocell won’t be like the other MMORPG games, what didn’t you like in the other MMORPG games and what have you changed in your game to make it unique ? what can you tell us about Xenocell ? – please be detailed.

I’ve been having the idea for Xenocell since sometime around 2003. There were a few big MMOs around, and I’ve always loved the idea of 32+ multiplayer games. I started with Everquest, played Lineage, World of Warcraft, probably all NCSoft games, Age of Conan, Tabula Rasa – you name it. I’ve probably played them all. But usually, with the exception of World of Warcraft, I just played them for a few months to see their what they added to the idea of an MMORPG.

What I’ve learned is that most of these games were about completing endless quests and leveling up. My goal each time was to level up to the next level. After a while, I stopped following the story, because it became boring. In some games, I could not use some of my features, because they were too complicated to learn, and were far from being intuitive enough for me to just make the right guess about them.

What I think Xenocell will be different in is that it will be a lot simpler. There will not be a hundred icons on the screen. You will not need to endlessly level up. The whole process of leveling up can be considered as a longer tutorial in the game. Upon reaching the maximum level of 20 within a few weeks, the player will have opened a great and vast dimension of new skills and abilities.

This game is not about questing. Although the base storyline is very important, the main idea behind the game is the player acting as one unit in a persistent RTS match fought by many clans in the same world.

Your clan leader might issue you and a few others to go on patrol to a resource site owned by your clan. Whether it gets attacked or not, that depends on enemy clans. Instead of NPC assigned static quests you receive commands that your superior commanders will give you. Everything you do for your clan will earn you something. You will still have the option to go out and grind mobs, but the point of the player’s role will be shifted from an adventurer to a soldier with active duty.

We did our best to come up with some improvements on the field of MMO AI. Since MMO game servers need to handle hundreds if not thousands of players, we realized that our initial plans to create more sophisticated AI were brave to say the least. However, we did manage to conjure up a system that will match up to most leading commercial MMOs. Soon after our launch, we will further enhance the AI side of the game by giving our NPCs active memories of players and their actions. This is supposed to supplement our faction system in a way that will be unique to an MMO so far. You will be able to have NPCs as your enemies or friends, and be attacked by them on sight, or be able to call for their help when in trouble. They will take a vehicle and join you for a limited time to fight by your side if you want.

Another thing I haven’t sen anywhere is our skills system. Players can gather a huge number of skills from the DNA of animals and plants. So in essence, you will have access to hundreds of skills, but will only be able to store about 20 in your own body. Even from those 20, you will have to choose 8 skills that you will want concentrate on, that is, the ones that you will use at any time. You will be able to rearrange those 8 skills when not in combat.

It will be different to find two players with the same active skill set. This system will add a new level of strategy, to which I’ve only seen something remotely similar in Guild Wars.

Finally, I also would like to mention, that Xenocell will introduce a new layer of communication in the game. I can not yet offer more details about this aspect, though I can tell that the way we’ll use the power of player-player communication is a unique one that has not yet been introduced to any MMOs as far as I know.

5. Most MMORPG games that I know about enforce “powerplaying” and “fast leveling” because if your hero is weak he will have a very hard time facing stronger players in PvP areas.
Does Xenocell also “enforce” fast leveling or a low level character could also help, survive and enjoy the game ?

On one hand, Xenocell has limited leveling. The player will be able to gather a lot more items and abilities once the highest level is reached, yet the road there will not be a long and hard one – the very opposite. It will probably take less than a week for hardcore players, and a month at most for any average player.

We wanted to have leveling only until the player feels familiar with the game and its world. Experience levels serve as a protection of some sort against players that reached the maximum level – where the game begins. In this regard, lower level players will have certain defenses against higher level players that do not apply between level 20 veterans.

Low level players will also have their own PvP areas. They will not be able to reach enemy territory only until they can likely defend themselves, but they will be able to enter Clan versus Clan zones from the beginning if they want to do so.

Clans will want to continually have lower level players in their ranks, since these players will be able to join fights for common resources. While these resources are abundant, they can only be defended by players of up to a certain level. Alternatively, a common resource site can be attacked or protected by higher level players, but only with very serious drawbacks.

Solo play will also be encouraged. Only scout class players and solo players will be able to retrieve access cards to a clan’s resource silo. This access card is required when one clan attacks another’s resource site. This is a process that must start with one player and probably ends with two clans clashing for control of the said resource.

All in all, I believe that we managed to design a system where every player is important – no matter what level or class he or she is. I think this will let more players enjoy the game in the long term.

6. In most MMORPG’s that I’ve seen the quests are very simple and boring : go to X, kill 15 Y, speak to Z to get the reward.
What can you tell us about the quests in Xenocell ? how different would they be from other MMORPG’s ?

Some of our quests will be much like those you see in other MMOs. Although in-game events will constantly alter these quests, they will be there there. On one hand, this is a method that connects this game with other MMOs. On the other hand, it is a great way to tell a story.

What’s going to be more exciting is the way we solved quests that are given out by players to players. We call them orders, and they bring bonuses to both the issuing player and the one completing the order.

Say, if you are a commander of a clan, you will receive bonuses for controlling more resources, so your task will be making your soldiers take over an enemy silo. You can make them do that by assigning them quests, such as “Get an access card to an enemy silo.”, “Hack the defense system of this silo using this access card.” or eventually “Win this resource site for our team.”. These sentences are very simplified, but it all boils down to this. You will also be able to gain ranks via completing orders.

There’s another quest system in development that will automatically assign headhunter quests. Players will be assigned to hunt one another down within a given time frame. This is of course if both players accept the quest. Whoever kills the other player first will win the quest. The time we’re thinking of is hours, not minutes. Any two online players of the same level from different factions will be chosen automatically and offered the possibility via signing up to be available for such a quest. One to be the victim who needs to survive and the other who is the hunter. They will need to find each other through a number of means – asking NPCs, using terminals or reports from spy drones. It sounds very exciting to me, since I personally enjoy solo PvP a lot.

7. From what I understand from your website, Xenocell will be pay to play based on monthly fee, will you also include a free to play options ?

We have not yet finalized the method of payments yet. It is also possible that instead of the monthly fee, the game will only have micro-transactions. Or both ways.

What’s certain is that the game will be playable free of charge. If you want to start another character, that might cost you the price of a burger. If you want to use some special vehicle or weapon, you might need to get a license for that or be a premium subscriber.

It’s too early to say more about what the limitations of a free to play character would be, but I would want it to be able to play the game without any level restriction.

Right now, we are preparing for every possibility tech-wise, so when we make our final decision, it will not be constrained by technical difficulties. We want to be able to handle both recurring and micro payments, so we will be able to decide just before we launch the game, after taking a step back and having a final look at what we have accomplished.

8. What classes and unique abilities will there be in Xenocell ? please explain in detail about them.

The game begins with a human colonization space vessel crash-landing on an alien planet. The starter classes are much the same as any job you’d have on a spaceship or within a young colony. There are five base classes.

Marines provide high damage per second from powerful and heavy weapons and are built to be at the front line of intense battles. Scouts remain unseen, providing moderate damage from a long range, or using fast weapons to get a high number of shots in. The job of the Pilot is to get from one location to another as fast as possible, with all personnel and material belongings safe and sound. The technological advances and technical capability of the Scientist is not to be underestimated, especially on the psionic battlefield. Lastly, behind the enemy lines, the true masters of life and death are the Medics, who maintain and strengthen the Human machine.

At level 10, each player can further specialize by choosing a subclass. Subclasses build on the original classes, but get additional bonuses to certain tasks. Let’s see them one by one.

Marine subclasses remain the best choice for direct combat. Special Ops are the best types of Marines to have in a party; they can take damage, they can deal damage, and they are easily motivated when supported by numerous allies. Paratroopers walk alone, and are not the type that you want to cross. They gain different kinds of bonuses when they are not in a team. Lastly, Bions are literally war machines. They are physically formidable beings capable of wielding the most powerful weaponry. They excessively use implants to boost their mostly physical powers.

Scout subclasses are the masters of infiltration. Snipers excel in finding a target, ending it permanently, and leaving no traces behind. Infiltrators have the mastery of psionics that they need to remain entirely unseen as they demolish their enemy’s last hopes. Lastly, a class that comes from the Droidarena universe, the Decker. Deckers have become well versed in electronics and code, as well as learning what makes nearly everything tick. Being able to hack defenses, they are a key class when starting an offensive on an enemy resource site.

Pilots subclasses will probably be a very popular choice. Combat Pilots are the hardiest of all Pilots, coming close to being a Marine in combat capability, while being able to control flying vehicles in battle. Carrier Pilots are your best bets for long range transport and hauling. This includes the skills to transport an entire team! Finally, Navigators are the masterminds of multi-tasking and massive vehicle maintenance. The biggest and baddest of all vehicles are commanded by Navigators.

While crafting will be available without having to choose a profession, Scientist subclasses will be able to create plans and craft better items. Researchers are the ones that do all of the analysis and testing of theories and new devices, as well as the ones who get to play with the most interesting of toys from the extraterrestrial races. Engineers are the premier minds behind manufacture and production, both at the personnel level and at the architectural level. They are a sought-after class when clan structures need to be built or repaired. Masters of the science and art of psionics, Adepts bring to mind the old saying, “Sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.” Few can combat the raw psionic force of an Adept.

Although Medics are the healers of Xenocell, its subclasses can go other routes. Combat Surgeons are one of the most frightening combatants to come up against. Their array of quick healing skills, enhancement type psionics, and vicious combat prowess, makes them hard to defeat. The job of the Biotechnician is to make the best better. Cutting edge Biotechnology, performance enhancing substances and implants, and anti-Biotech/cyborg psionic abilities make Biotechnicians the most skilled of all doctors. Wounds and injuries previously believed to be untreatable are within the reach of the Mentalist’s healing. Mutilated limbs, rended organs, even fatal diseases… all curable by the psionic powers of a well equipped Mentalist.

9. In Xenocell a player can own cars/planes/ships and other stuff.
Can you please explain how it works ? how the player acquires those items ? for how long do they stay in players control ?

Acquiring vehicles in Xenocell can be in different ways. Most smaller vehicles without turrets can be purchased by the player. Other vehicles require licenses to drive and are accessible to pilots only. These vehicles are usually the ones that can carry more personnel or can serve as a clan base.

With the exception of a few vehicles, the player can “summon” his vehicles at any time when on open terrain. The vehicle is then hauled from a nearby base to the player’s position in a few seconds.

The player starts driving the vehicle until he exits the vehicle, or the vehicle is destroyed. If the vehicle is destroyed, it’s “summon” skill will have a long cooldown until the vehicle can be summoned again, so it’s a good idea to look after your vehicle in battle. However, you can have several vehicles at your disposal, but each of the “summon” skills take up one slot from your 8 skill slots.

When using vehicles, players lose their skill bar, and the vehicle’s own skill bar is shown. Through upgrades, players will be able to add new skills to their vehicles. This includes mounting a turret on a jeep, or upgrading it with Nitrous-Oxide. All vehicles have a certain number of free skill slots. When these slots are all used, no more upgrades can be used on a vehicle.

There are different kinds of vehicles. Jeeps, tanks, planes, gunships, APC-s, bikes, jet-packs and so on.. Of course, there’s no use to a vehicle, when you need to infiltrate an enemy underground base.

10. In Xenocell website I’ve noticed a remark about players ability to change and influence the world, can you tell us more about this ?
To what degree a player can change the world in a MMORPG game ?

We are finishing a system that will monitor a player’s acts. It will judge the player and try to assign points to the player towards being good or bad in a specific situation. We will globally monitor responses to the game world by the players, and create game events that will alter the existing scene.

Such an example would be a captain that would ask your help with the construction of a special rifle. You could steal the rifle or you could help him. If many people stole the rifle, the guy would go broke, and look for another profession. If more players would help him with the rifle, he would start a store and a tuned-up version of the rifle would end up in his store for a reasonable price.

Of course this would apply on a more global scale as well. Alternately, this would decide what the sequel to the first chapter of the game would be. There’s an alien conspiracy to be discovered, and at the end, probably not long after reaching level 20, the player will have to make a choice. If many players choose one ending over another when completing the main story line, very drastic events will happen within a few months. I’d really love to tell you more about it, but I’d be spoiling the game for our players, so I better not disclose the details of the end of the storyline.

We are also looking into letting CvC areas be destroyable in a sense. We’d like to see craters caused by huge explosions. Eventually these anomalies would disappear within hours or minutes, but in the meantime they’d reshape the scene in a way that could be used strategically. For now, we will not include this feature, but we are actively working on it!

Thank you very much for the interview.

And thank you Konrad Kiss for your superb answers, can’t wait to play Xenocell !

  1. richs-lxh says:

    Excellent interview Max, and thanks Konrad for providing in depth detail in the replies. These interviews are getting better and better.

    Everybody is always looking for a little innovation on a considered standard platform/game engine, and it sounds like Xenocell will provide something new.

  2. M1AU says:

    Thanks a lot for providing that much details about the game, this was an excellent read!

    For me the game much sounds like Guild Wars. Well, I really loved Guild Wars back in the days when I played it on my Windows box. Also I’m a big SciFi fan in general, so this could turn out as THE game i was waiting for!
    Hopefully everything works in favor of the planned Linux client, as this will be my platform of choice.